Saturday, September 19, 2009

Getting Back To Basics

OK, so this week's post isn't going to discuss screenwriting - exactly. I just thought I'd take a minute to talk about some of the basic proofreading errors that I see repeatedly. Hopefully, a few tips will make these easier for all writers to catch in their own work.


It's so easy to use the wrong form of this word. And while I don't want to list all the dictionary definitions for their usage, here are a few tips to avoid some of the more common errors:

They're is used when you are shortening "they are." If you use "they're," read the sentence back to yourself and substitute "they are." If it doesn't make sense, you've used the wrong spelling.

There is generally used when you are referring to a place - a geographic location. For instance, if "Jeff and Bob went there," this is the spelling. The easiest way to remember this - it has the word "here" in it. So think locations and geography (although there are some other usages for this word).

Their means that the item belongs to or pertains to people (or aliens or dogs or other characters you've created). It's "their house," "their party," "their car." Their is generally used when referring to "they" or "them" in some way.


A lot of writers seem to forget about "too." They use "to" for everything.

But "too" does have its place. I could copy the dictionary meaning, but I think the easiest thing to do is to show you examples where "too" applies:

It's too much.
It's too easy.
He eats too often.
I wanna go too.
I'm clever too.

So, basically, "too" means in addition or to an excess. It can also take the place of "also" sometimes, as in "I wanna go too."


I get it. I know a lot of you want to close your quotation marks around the specific word or sentence while ignoring the following punctuation. This is one of those grammar rules that I just don't understand. And yet, when you're using a period or comma in conjunction with a closing quotation mark, you need to put the punctuation first.

For example:
She said I was too "wordy."
She said I was too "wordy," and then she edited my entire page.


When you review your scripts, watch out for those passive verbs. Whenever possible, change your sentence structure so you can make the verb active. It really does make for a better read.

"Sally is walking toward Bob" becomes "Sally walks toward Bob." Or better yet, "Sally skips toward Bob."

"Joe is caught off guard by Tom's comments" becomes "Joe whirls around, surprised at Tom's comments."


It's so easy to miss mistakes when we proofread our own writing. As writers, we get so close to the material, our eyes sometimes see what we meant to write instead of what we actually did type.

When you review your work for errors, try to shake up the way you read. You can read your scenes in reverse order, from the end of the script to the beginning. Since you won't be able to hone in on plot this way, you'll see the words differently. You can also catch on-the-nose dialogue and flat scenes by reading in reverse.

Another way to catch mistakes is to read your script word-by-word instead of sentence-by-sentence. Or, you can slowly read the script aloud. Try to find a method that works for you and lets you see the words as you really did type them.

That's it for this week. I hope these small reminders and tips were helpful. Have fun writing!

1 comment:

  1. Elisa, like many other people you are confusing passive voice with some verb tenses. In the two examples you give, the second is indeed in passive voice: "Joe is caught off-guard by Tom's comments" and should be changed to "Tom's comments catch Joe off-guard." The first, however, is not a passive voice sentence, but one with a present progressive verb: "Sally is walking toward Bob." Sally is the one walking, and her name comes before the verb, so it's not passive voice. What you should say is that you should change your sentences to simple present tense: "Sally walks toward Bob." Many people make the mistake of thinking that any sentence with a helping verb (is) must be passive, but it isn't so.